God in School

Jewish, Muslim & Christian Leaders at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, Bethesda, MD following the Paris attacks.

Jewish, Muslim & Christian Leaders at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, Bethesda, MD following the Paris attacks.

En esa región había unos pastores en el campo, turnándose para cuidar sus rebaños por la noche. Entonces un ángel del Señor se les presentó , y la gloria del Señor los rodeó de resplandor , y tuvieron gran temor . Pero el ángel les dijo: ” No temas ; para ver – os doy nuevas de gran alegría para todo el pueblo : Para os ha nacido hoy, en la ciudad de David, un Salvador , que es el Mesías , el Señor . Este será una señal: . Se encuentra un niño envuelto en pañales y acostado en un pesebre » Y repentinamente apareció con el ángel una multitud de las huestes celestiales , que alababan a Dios y diciendo:
‘ ¡Gloria a Dios en las alturas ,
y en la tierra paz a los que está a favor ! “

In Mrs. Basile’s Spanish 3 Class long ago in a galaxy far away, it was our assignment to memorize the paragraph above just before winter break in the 11th Grade.  You might recognize it as the Gospel of Luke 2:8-14.  It’s the part of the Christmas story that Linus recites in A Charlie Brown Christmas.  I can still recite it today (but this is not a post about the educational benefits of memorization.)

This was a public high school assignment in a class with at least one Jewish student  and others with no affiliation.  No Muslims were in the class as far as I can remember.

Nobody threatened the school officials over that assignment.  Nobody accused Mrs. Basile of trying to convert the non-Christians in the class. Yes, she could have chosen a passage to memorize in Spanish that did not involve the birth of Jesus (“the Messiah, the LORD”) but she chose one of the best known accounts of Jesus’ birth in Scripture.

I remembered this last week when schools were closed in Staunton, Virginia after a world geography teacher had assigned her students to write the Shahada in Arabic calligraphy.  The New York Times covered the situation here.  I also thought of this story when I heard about Dr. Larycia Hawkins, the Wheaton professor who said that Muslims and Christians worship the same God – and was subsequently suspended from her job.

A couple of other thoughts:

  • If all it takes to convert someone from Christianity to Islam is to copy calligraphy, then that Christian faith was a bit wobbly in the first place.
  • While Muslims, Christians, and Jews understand the means and meaning of salvation differently, we are indeed  – historically – all people of The Book and the children of Abraham.
  • Now more than ever, we must teach world religions in our public schools – not for the purposes of conversion but for the purpose of understanding the history and highlights of each faith.  Yes, this will be tricky.

One of the things I loved about raising our children in a religiously diverse school system is that it was safe for them to ask and answer questions among their peers.  Among the conversations in the school cafeteria:

  • From a Muslim student to a Christian student:  “Why do some of you wear ashes (on Ash Wednesday) and some of you don’t?”
  • From a Christian student to a Muslim student:  “Why do some of the girls wear hijab and some don’t?”
  • From a Christian student to a Jewish student:  “Is Hanukkah like Christmas, only for 8 days?”

Our children could ask and answer those questions.  As a person who grew up in a predominantly Protestant Christian hometown, I can tell you right now that I couldn’t have answered those questions about the differences between Christian denominations, much less about other world faiths.

I write this as a Christian – theologically conservative and theologically progressive, depending on the topic but trusting that the way of Jesus  is the best way to live.  I also write this as a person to believes that The Prince of Peace came to people of every faith and of no faith.

Let’s give each other a break and trust God.

Photo from Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church.  This service was highlighted by The Huffington Post as one of The Top 15 Religious Moments in 2015.

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